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Tuesday, August 27, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Hero's Last Flight: Pilot Al Haynes Retires

Al Haynes, the pilot who two years ago was hailed for guiding a crippled United Airlines DC-10 into an Iowa cornfield and credited with saving scores of lives, made his last flight for United yesterday.

Haynes, who turns 60 Saturday and must retire under federal aviation policy, received a hero's welcome as he piloted Flight 455 from Denver into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Friends, family members and fans applauded as he smiled and waved from the cockpit.

It was a smooth last ride, Haynes said.

Two years ago, Haynes piloted Flight 232 to a crash landing at Sioux City, Iowa. The plane cartwheeled and broke into four pieces, killing 112 people, but 184 survived. Haynes was praised for steering the craft, which suffered hydraulic failure and lost nearly all maneuverability, about 45 minutes before it crashed.

He smiled and shook his head when asked if he agreed with being labeled a hero. "If they need somebody, I guess that's OK with me," Haynes said with a shrug, adding that thousands of people helped to rescue the survivors.

"He's always been sort of a hero to us, anyway," said his wife, Darlene, who flew first-class on Haynes' last flight.

Airline officials gave Haynes a pin honoring his 35 years as a United pilot.

Typical of his emphasis on teamwork, Haynes asked the original crew from Flight 232 to join him on his last trip.

"It made us feel good," said flight attendant Barb Gillaspie. She stood in a cluster with the other flight attendants, who watched quietly while fans and the media crowded around Haynes.

"I wouldn't have missed it," Gillaspie said, smiling.

Crew members said they've kept in touch and still talk about the crash that changed their lives. Haynes' positive attitude was a main part of their healing, they said.

Flight attendant Donna McGrady said that while she and her co-workers had mixed emotions about yesterday's flight, "We did it for him."

Four emergency medical technicians who helped pull passengers from the wreckage two years ago also flew with Haynes to help him celebrate.

"This is a tribute to Al," said James Hathaway, the fire chief at Sioux Gateway Airport. Haynes played a big part in the psychological healing of the emergency teams, visiting and talking with them even months after the crash, Hathaway said.

"We feel he's one of us now," Hathaway said.

Between handshakes, interviews and signing autographs, Haynes took time to hug well-wishers and joke with his family about partying Saturday at a retirement bash at his SeaTac home.

He said he's looking forward to continuing his work as a Little League umpire and announcer for high-school football games.

"I'll do what I've been doing without flying around the country," Haynes said.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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